The 2021 Women’s Rugby Union World Cup is less than 10 months away and the pools are almost complete.
Seven teams qualified directly for the tournament by finishing in the top seven places at the 2017 tournament in Ireland, winners New Zealand, finalists England, bronze medalists France, losing semi-finalists USA, Canada, Australia and Wales in seventh.
Two teams making their debuts after winning the Rugby Africa Women’s Cup and Oceania Rugby Women’s Championship are South Africa and Fiji.
The three remaining places will be made up by the winner of the Europe RWC Qualifying Competition and Asia Rugby Women’s Championship and in a first for the Women’s game, a qualification tournament with Samoa and either Kenya or Columbia already there with the runners up from the European and Asian competition joining them.
The draw had New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, together with Rugby World Cup winners Melodie Robinson, Dr Farah Palmer and Dan Carter, drawing the balls for the ninth edition of the showcase event.
Pulling the pool out for New Zealand first Prime Minister Ardern placed the hosts in Pool A.
In Pool A New Zealand were joined by the winners of the Qualifying Competition, Wales and Australia.
Pool B has a North American derby as Canada face the USA for the first time in the pools and the Europe and Asia winners.
Pool C is complete as England and France will face debutantes Fiji and South Africa.
World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont, who could not be in attendance owing to the ongoing global pandemic, voiced confidence in New Zealand Rugby to deliver a game-changing event to supercharge women’s rugby globally.
Beaumont said: “New Zealand 2021 will be one of the great Rugby World Cups. It will be a celebration of the host nation, of world-class rugby and women in rugby and it will play a huge role in inspiring more women, girls and boys to get into rugby.
“Today marks an important step towards that ambition. It is the day that the teams and fans have been waiting for with great anticipation, the moment the tournament truly comes alive and the final preparations begin in earnest.
“2021 will be a golden year for women in rugby with the Olympics and collectively we are ready to convert that opportunity into impactful and sustainable momentum for the women’s game and the growth of the sport as a whole.”
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, speaking at the draw, said: “After all this World Cup is an opportunity. An opportunity to grow the game here but also internationally an opportunity to showcase our elite athletes and provide inspiration for girls, and boys.
“An opportunity to break down gender discrimination in sport. And finally an opportunity to extend the manaakitanga that New Zealand is famous for. We are committed to a spectacular Rugby World Cup 2021 and we can’t wait to welcome all 12 teams to Aotearoa New Zealand.”
Black Ferns captain Eloise Blackwell, speaking at the event, said: “Sitting there next to Fiao’o Fa’amausili, a legend of the game, and it was pretty nerve-racking watching those balls being picked out. It’s interesting how the pools have come out; we’ve got an Australasian pool, a North American pool and a European pool. Across the pools, there are some quality teams.”